Political Commentary

The Koreas: A Typhoon viewed through a Tea Cup

A month before the Olympics in South Korea, the World and the US was facing a nuclear standoff with Kim Jong-Un in North Korea. About a month after the Olympics, President Moon was visiting North Korea at the invite of Chairman Jong-Un. There was no representative of the US present and there apparently was no prior consultation with the US on President Moon’s jaunt over the border. The country in attendance in a facilitator role was China. Now we have a calendar of negotiations “without any limit” including nuclear disarmament to be convened between North and South Korea. Amazingly there is already more cultural exchange and “conversation” between the two parts of Korea then for the last 25 years. Again China is very much in evidence and the US is largely marginalized in these discussions.

North Korea is a client state of China and of course, China has cultivated North Korea as a nuclear capable pawn in an effective bid to side step the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Provisions (NTP) and to gain leverage over the very excessive US presence in South Korea. The Koreas are China’s backyard and China is flexing to gain leverage, influence and leadership. Today China is taking the lead in moving the Koreas forward towards a detente and cooperation that excludes any space or contribution from the US. Most importantly, would  Kim Jong-Un really need to make the effort to meet POTUS at all if an agreement was forged and signed with South Korea directly under the grand patronage of China?

South Korea is really riding the typhoon of initiatives and openness harnessed by China and offered by North Korea. South Korea has a huge and undeniable US presence, one that they can never singlehandedly diminish or indeed eliminate without a lot of help and support, both diplomatically and globally. However for a long time South Korea has felt the weight and yoke of US presence on its shores increasingly as an impediment to defusing and reconciling with North Korea. Yet over the last 50 years since the end of the Korean War, the US has protected South Korea and allowed it to benefit and grow economically from US foreign and intellectual investment. So South Korea owes the US a debt of gratitude that will not be easy to repay or to shirk.

There are many reasons why the US really needs South Korea but South Korea really needs to get rid the largely overbearing and paternalistic relationship with the US. South Korea is the star performer in the US countermeasures strategy against China – it is the closest base to China apart from Japan but also allows the US to maintain dominant military forces and military posture against China. It is more than a base. South Korea is a colony.

But as the typhoon hits South Korea, you start to notice the strong pull of the waters taking South Korea away from its traditional anchor in the US towards a closer relations with China in a fatherly role – and North Korea as an equal partner.  We still have the war-games but we don’t have the consultation and the servitude we know to define the relationship until now between South Korea and the US.

More significantly, the migratory path of the Korea relationship shines a spotlight on the emerging global relationship between China and the US and also global rebalancing of power. China is on the move. The US is looking at the tempest typhoon though a teacup optic and ignoring the glaring signs of the US being relegated to a secondary or tertiary power in the larger process of reconciliation in the Koreas. Is the US being flooded out of its key role in the Koreas?


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